A Texas man who once operated a recycling business in Central Kentucky was sentenced Friday to three years in prison for improperly disposing of hazardous electronic waste.
Kenneth Gravitt, 63, who now lives in Austin, Texas, pleaded guilty to two charges in the case.
He later asked to take back his plea, claiming he was innocent and only pleaded guilty out of fear and concern for his wife, but U.S. District Judge Karen K. Caldwell ruled there was not sufficient grounds for him to withdraw the plea.
Gravitt formerly operated a company called Global Environmental Services, which had facilities in Georgetown, Winchester and Cynthiana.
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The business recycled cathode ray tubes, or CRTs, from old televisions and computers, according to a court record.
Disposal of the tubes is regulated under federal law because they contain lead, which is toxic and a potential health hazard.
The business model called for the company to remove the lead-based components from old electronic equipment and take it to a smelter or approved recycler, crush the uncontaminated glass parts for possible use as golf-course sand, and recycle the metal and plastic, according to a court record.
There turned out to be such a demand for the service as owners replaced old equipment that the company was overwhelmed, Gravitt’s lawyers said in a motion seeking probation for him.
Gravitt allegedly stored contaminated waste improperly, dumped it at a landfill that wasn’t licensed to take hazardous material and buried some waste in a hole behind the Georgetown facility.
Gravitt’s attorneys said employees hid problems from Gravitt as he attempted to operate the business from Texas, and that he was not aware employees were taking hazardous material to landfills in Central Kentucky.
“He would have never sanctioned illegal disposal,” the attorneys said in one motion.
Gravitt’s motivation in burying material in Georgetown was to save employees’ jobs after the business failed an inspection, his attorneys said.
Prosecutors, however, rejected Gravitt’s “self-serving” claims.
Employees warned Gravitt the company was taking in more old electronics than it could handle, but he insisted on continuing because “the money was too good to turn down,” prosecutors said in a sentencing memorandum.
Gravitt also knew the type of material employees were taking to the landfill, prosecutors said.
The estimated cost to clean up sites contaminated as a result of Gravitt’s actions was several million dollars, U.S. Attorney Robert M. Duncan Jr. said in a news release.
Two owners who provided warehouse space to Gravitt have been unable to pay for the required cleanup and face bankruptcy if the state or federal governments don’t provide a bailout, prosecutors said in the sentencing memo.
And while supporters described Gravitt as a man of good character who umpired youth baseball in Lexington for years and donated to community causes, prosecutors said he lied about fighting in the U.S. Marine Corps in Vietnam.
Caldwell sentenced Gravitt Friday in federal court in Lexington, ordering him to report to prison on Jan. 8.
“The illegal disposal of hazardous waste endangers us all,” Duncan said in a news release. “We have these prohibitions for a reason: they protect the environment, public health, public funds, and the safety of people in our community. When people endanger the community merely to serve their own interests, that conduct simply has to be prosecuted.”